In my introductory workshops called Mindfulness in Everyday Life, I show participants Jon Kabat Zinn’s Video on his working definition of mindfulness. I have read this and seen this video hundreds of times and it feels like a breath of fresh air. A new perspective dawns on me every time I see it.
Kabat-Zinn says that mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”
It is always interesting to see how people react to this definition. I often have intellectually stimulated conversations about the “non-judgementally” bit. How can you be non-judgemental?” “Isn’t saying be non-judgmental itself a judgement?”. Mindfulness is not an easy concept to grasp. It invokes so many ideas about what it means. Perhaps the simplicity of it stumps us all. I often dive into the experience of mindfulness as a way for people to understand and experience it better.
Another definition that I use in my classes is of Lynette Monteiro and Frank Musten from their book “Mindfulness Starts Here: An Eight Week Guide to Living Skilfully” on what they term “right” mindfulness: “Steadiness in the face of challenges so that our wisdom can guide our intentions effectively.”
I also love this definition by them on Mindfulness as “Creating an intention to well-being, paying attention to what is in the moment and approaching what is with an attitude of curiosity and openness.”
There are several benefits to mindfulness.
- The five interrelated domains of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. These skills can be broadly categorized as intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, some of the most important skills to successfully AND peacefully navigate in our everyday life.
- Emotional intelligence is necessary for stellar work performance, for outstanding leadership and most important of all to create conditions for happiness
- What does mindfulness have to do with emotional intelligence? A strong, stable and perceptive attention that offers a calm and clear mind is the basis of emotional intelligence.
- So, Emotional intelligence, the ability to stand still and anchored in times of stress and intensity is trainable. That we can be present and steady in the face of challenges by pausing and practicing the many tools of mindfulness.
- In learning to be mindful we can learn to train ourselves to respond to triggers effectively, have difficult conversations with presence rather than flying off the handle and feel confident during stress.
My Experience as a mother practicing mindfulness:
As a mother my moment to moment presence with my children is invaluable because those moments never come back in the same color, emotion, or taste.
I remember vividly this one particular night of several nights, when I awoke to a cold dark room, held my baby close to my chest and rocked her back to sleep. All I could think about, in this moment, was that this was my first and only moment of togetherness with my daughter as the whole world slept. And of course, it was. That same moment never came back again. Even though I continue to repeat the same rocking moment with my baby draped around my shoulders many many times.
As a mother, my moment to moment awareness of my own feelings has woken me up to trust myself more. To trust that when I can step back and look at my worry and anxiety I can acknowledge them for what they truly are-mere clouds in a vast sky.
I remember like it was yesterday, the hollow feeling in my chest, the burning anxiety and misery I felt after I came back from work one evening and my little girl did not look at me fully, and kept playing with her nanny. I remember journaling about it, I wrote that I was so jealous of my nanny. Jealous that my daughter wanted her more than me. I remember the moment when it didn’t matter anymore. When what mattered was the realization that I could honor my daughter’s experience and join her in a way that lights her up instead.
As a mother to my then infant, nap times gave me opportunities to become aware of my experience of the world, opened me to what I kept locked inside. I became aware of a calling and acknowledged it.
I remember listening to my heartfelt yearning one afternoon. I wrote to a sweet friend telling her I didnt know a thing about art but wanted to play with colors. I remember picking up crayons first and then acrylics to explore my world in the way I saw.Creative Journaling and Pause for Perspective was born.
When you shine your attention in the now, in the moment to moment experience like it is unfolding, when you can come back to it after or in between every diversion you take- you are present in your life, in your child’s life, in your spouse’s life and in the life of those you love in a gentle and courageous way, in a truly life enhancing way.
Mindfulness thus entails attending with awareness how we engage and bond with those around us, it entails watching our growing frustrations and to-do’s, watching our boredom and staying with it.It entails a certain amount of coolness to flow with the day while holding on to our tasks loosely (rather than in a rigid I “need to get it done now” kind of a way). It entails staying with our selves, our children and those we love when they engage with us, need us, look at us and want to play with us. It is a moment to moment awareness.
Mindfulness is a pali word Sati which includes awareness-attention-remembering.
Mindfulness entails remembering to come back to what this moment asks of us, it entails being with this moment in spite of our busyness.
It means being present
Being in the now.
Directing our attention where it is needed most.
Directing our attention in the now so that we can discern where it is needed most.
It means being present in the best way we can and coming back to the present moment again and again.
In the posts to come we will talk about the different practices of mindfulness. Stay Tuned.